Toward safe and legal abortion as a human right in Africa

By Liza Muringo Kimbo, Ipas Africa Alliance country director

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

African leaders signing declaration

At the end of January 2017, I, along with more than 70 representatives from governments, inter-governmental institutions, national human rights institutions, civil society, medical associations, law enforcement agencies, youth and academia, took part in the Africa Leader’s Summit on Safe, Legal Abortion in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

During the conference, we committed to decriminalizing abortion in Africa and to ensuring that every African woman or girl has the right to make decisions about her body, her health and her future. We also pledged to strengthen government’s and inter-governmental institutions’ capacity to promote and protect women’s and girls’ right to safe, legal abortion. 

We did this because each year, more than a million African women are treated for complications for unsafe abortion. And right now, 90 percent of African women live in countries where abortion is restricted. We must continue to work with African governments to ensure every woman has the right to safe and legal abortion.

In closing the 2017 summit, the delegates endorsed a conference declaration with the following recommendations:

  • Remove all policy and administrative barriers to women’s and girls’ access to safe abortion services and to support the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights campaign to decriminalize abortion in Africa.
  • Review existing policies and adopt a plan of action on young people’s sexuality and access to information, pregnancy prevention, and safe abortion in line with the "Revised Maputo Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health 2016-2030."
  • Increase support and strengthened capacity for meaningful youth participation at national, sub-regional and regional levels in line with the African Union 2017 year of Harnessing the Demographic dividend through investment in Youth and beyond.”
  • Advocate for increased budget allocation for national sexual, reproductive and health rights programs, while rejecting policies and funding that undermine efforts to combat unsafe abortion. 

These recommendations among others, outline the importance of upholding important human rights treaties such as the Maputo protocol as a path to cementing a brighter future for African women and girls. They are guidelines for advocacy work at a regional, national and local level to ensure women will be able to make choices about their reproductive health.

The declaration is aligned with the African Union goals for 2063 that call for “shared prosperity and well-being, for unity and integration, for a continent of free citizens and expanded horizons, where the full potential of women and youth, boys and girls are realized, and with freedom from fear, disease and want.”

The African leaders summit was convened by Ipas Africa Alliance, along with the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Femmes Africa Solidarite to set up a five-year agenda leading to a 2017 Declaration on Safe, Legal Abortion and Human Rights. The summit was co-sponsored by the Centre for Reproductive Rights, Africa Health Accountability Platform, Marie Stopes Kenya, Equality Now, Oxfam and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

The importance of this summit cannot be underestimated, particularly in the current climate where the Global Gag Rule will restrict organizations receiving U.S. global health funding from using their own private funds to offer counselling, advocate for or provide legal abortion services. 

Trump’s Global Gag Rule threatens to put women’s health and lives at risk by restricting access to reproductive health care services, including safe abortion — African women deserve to make their reproductive choices without the interference of U.S. foreign policy.

This is the time for our governments to uphold their obligations to improve women’s health by providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, without jeopardizing women's health and lives.